REVIEW: 2022 Indianapolis Competition Concerto Finals Day 2: Claire Wells, SooBeen Lee and Sirena Huang

September 25, 2022, 11:11 AM · When I'm watching any of the Finalists perform in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, I know that I'm watching an artist who is going places. Because with this competition, it's not just the Gold Medal winner who makes a career - history has shown that these violinists are all top-notch musicians who are headed for soloist careers, or concertmaster positions, or a high-level teaching career.

So on Saturday, even though everyone was waiting anxiously to learn who had won the Gold (congratulations Sirena Huang! Read about laureate placements here), I was still excited to hear the final three performers play their big concertos with a symphony orchestra.

The three violinists who played on Saturday included Claire Wells, SooBeen Lee, and Sirena Huang. You can watch their performances (and other previous competition performances) by clicking here.

Claire Wells played the mournful and beautiful Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor by Dmitri Shostakovich, building the dynamics nicely in the first movement and then creating her own fast tempo in the quirky second-movement Scherzo. It's such great music, at moments sounding like a mocking, drunken, crazy band, and she played the flurry of notes accurately and with a lot of energy.

Claire Wells
Violinist Claire Wells with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin. Photo by Denis Kelly.

Then came the foreboding of the third movement, with its plodding beat, and she wailed on the melody. Wells held her own in the cadenza, bringing it down to a pure silence and building it back into the frenzy that leads in the the last movement. There were some competing tempos in the last movement between orchestra and soloist, but overall it was a very exciting performance.

Next, violinist Soobeen Lee brought sustained intensity to her performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and her first-movement cadenza was well-planned, with a clear arc to it.

SooBeen Lee
Violinist SooBeen Lee with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Denis Kelly.

In the third movement, her very clean sound helped bring out the specifics of Sibelius's complex rhythms. Playing with vigorous bow strokes and punchy accents, her sound projected exceptionally well, allowing the soloist's voice to emerge clearly through the thick orchestration in this work.

Violinist Sirena Huang chose to play the Violin Concerto in A minor by Antonin Dvorak - a concerto that can be challenging - Joshua Bell has said that it "doesn’t lie well in the hands, as there are some technical difficulties. Some passages are just awkward to play. And if it’s not played with the right approach structurally, it can sound like a lot of passagework."

Forceful from the beginning, nailing the extremely high notes at the opening of the concerto, Huang made it clear that she was in full control. In one moment she poured full energy into every bow stroke, then in another she would dance along playfully while accompanying a melody in the flutes and woodwinds.

Sirena Huang
Violinist Sirena Huang with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Denis Kelly.

The second movement was nonstop melody, with juicy solo parts and big gorgeous orchestral outpourings. Huang used huge straight bows and a fast vibrato to sculpt the melodies. The third movement begins like a chorus of birds, with very catchy musical themes. Huang showed that, in the middle of a blizzard of fast notes, she can nonetheless bring out the important ones.

If you'd like to watch these performances, they are all archived on this page.

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